210902 Saudi women
The first batch of Saudi women to complete armed forces training. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: More than a third of Saudi Arabia’s plethora of important reforms have boosted women’s rights, a senior official said.

Saudi Arabia has approved more than 90 human rights reforms, including 30 human rights reforms directly related to women’s and family rights, the head of the Human Rights Commission, Dr. Awwad Al Awwad, said.

Hailing as “historic” the new rights granted to women in Saudi Arabia, Al Awwad added there has been a significant decrease in reports of violence and issues of divorce, custody and alimony.

During his speech at the Saudi Family Forum 2021, Al Awwad said: “There are several programmes to support the family, such as the programmes for people with disabilities, women and the elderly.”

The Secretary-General of the Family Affairs Council, Dr. Hala Al Tuwaijri, said the Council worked, through partnership with authorities, on many steps, including family counseling, expanding support for the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, and taking into account the child’s best interest in all procedures and legislation.

“The radically new approach reflected in Vision 2030, the National Transformation Programme 2020, recognises the need to encourage full female participation in the job market, which will drive the cultural changes needed to enable women to become both more economically productive and more independent,” Al Tuwaijri said.

Saudi women’s rights reforms

On February 8, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced plans to introduce significant changes to Saudi Arabia’s judicial system, including the promulgation of a personal status law (or family law). In the absence of a codified family law that meets international standards, women in Saudi Arabia face discrimination in marriage, divorce, decisions relating to children, including child custody, and inheritance.

In 2019, Saudi Arabia introduced significant women’s rights reforms, including lifting travel restrictions and allowing Saudi women to drive, register their children’s birth, and providing new protections against employment discrimination and sexual harassment.

Major women’s rights include:

1. A woman has the right to veil herself or to leave the house to be searched if she is not accused.

2. If there is only the accused woman in the dwelling to be searched, the system requires that a woman be with those conducting the search.

3. It is not permissible to detain a woman if she is pregnant or has had a child under two years of age.

4. Women should be given their rights of inheritance, especially real estate.

5. A woman’s silence about claiming her right to inheritance does not mean the forfeiture of her right if she demands it.

6. The Personal Status Courts consider the request for marriage to those who do not have a guardian, and for those who had guardians, but their guardians prevented them from marrying.

7. Saudi women sue male guardians who stop marriage in violation of Islamic law by forcibly keeping them single, a practice known as “adhl”.

8. Confining and forcing a woman to marry someone she does not agree to and preventing her from marrying someone who meets the considered conditions is not permissible, and is forbidden by Sharia.

9. Whoever insists on these practices will be punished with imprisonment.

10. The waiting period for a woman whose marriage is annulled begins from the date of the ruling, and not from the date of ratification by the Court of Cassation.

11. Forcibly enforcing the court rulings issued regarding child custody and personal status, even if this leads to seeking the assistance of the competent force (the police).

12. A defendant is compulsorily brought to court if he fails to appear in marital matters, custody, alimony, visitation, and if a woman is forced by her guardians.

13. Whoever refrains from executing a ruling regarding custody, guardianship or visitation shall be punished with imprisonment for a period not exceeding three months.